Does Anyone Watch the Music Director?

Watching this amazingly expressive child in the video clip below got me thinking about various musical religious practices. Check it out. I’d love to work with a music director with that much passion!

Religiously speaking, I love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormon or LDS church).

Musically speaking, there are a few things that baffle me. Like, why is there someone up in front of the congregation waving their arm every time we sing a hymn? Choirs, I can understand. But congregations?? I don’t get it.

In my experience, the LDS church is the only religious organization that has someone do this. Some churches have cantors that lead congregational singing. But they lead out with their voices, not their arms. And it seems less like musical directing and more like being the lead voice in a group sing-along. You know, if at least one person sings loud enough the vocally shy are more likely to participate.

More often than not, the organist fills the role of the music director—setting the tempo, leading the congregation with a clear introduction, a well-timed pause, a nod of the head and off we go.

Personally, I play better when I can follow the lead of a competent music director. I love the synergy and the feeling of unity that comes with that kind of teamwork. But there have been more than a few times that the music director has told me, “Just do whatever you want. I’ll follow you.”

I’m wondering how it works with other organists. So, I put together this highly scientific poll to find out how often LDS organists are able and willing to follow their arm-waving music directors. If you are now serving, or ever have served as an LDS ward organist, you are invited to take the poll below.

For more highly scientific organist polls go to the Polls page.

If You Ever Play the BYU Marriott Center Organ

Several years ago I asked my organ teacher, Doug Bush, what I would need to do to be able to play the organ at the Marriott Center. “Be on the list,” was his quick reply.

“Okay. Put me on the list,” I boldly requested.

He patiently explained that it was not as easy as it looked and I needed to have more experience; that there were a lot of things I needed to know and that generally he required a Junior level standing in the organ program or successful completion of  the AGO Service Playing Exam. And besides that, there really wouldn’t be much opportunity for me to play there because students or faculty were asked to play at most of the events held in the Marriott Center. The only exception might be the BYU Women’s Conference held every spring.

Determined to be an organist at Women’s Conference some day, I spent the next two years preparing for the AGO exam. As promised, after passing the AGO Service Playing Exam, my name was added to the Organists Approved to Play Marriott Center list.

And then I waited. Patiently. Sort of. For the first couple years, anyway.

I finally gave up this year and resigned myself to never playing at Women’s Conference. Ever. And of course, that’s when I was asked to play. (Why didn’t I give up sooner?)

BYUWC_2014_1

It was a great experience. And just in case you ever get asked to play the organ at the Marriott Center, here’s my List of Things That Are Really Nice to Know Before You Play the Marriott Center Organ:

  • There is not a “practice organ” in a private, safe, secluded room. There is only one organ in the Marriott Center and it’s the real deal, out in the middle of a big, huge, lonely arena.
  • The “on” switch is above the manuals on the left side.
  • To choose a memory level, open the drawer below the draw knobs on the left side of the manuals. If you can’t find the hidden drawer, just get off the bench quickly, in desperation to phone a more experienced organist to tell you where the stupid thing is and your knee will find the drawer very quickly. (I’ve got the bruise to prove it!)
  • Practice headphones are kept at the organ, on the floor, to the right of the pedalboard. It’s a good idea to use them, but it’s also very helpful to not use them at least once before you’re playing in front of a live audience so you get a feel for the sound coming through humungo speakers throughout the arena and not just the little wimpy tink-tink through the headphones. (Besides, it feels so good to sit in an empty arena and just play LOUD!)
  • During an event the HVAC system moves a lot of air. Taping your sheet music down is a must. But even books can be affected by the breeze. Use paper clips or pencils, or your metronome, or anything to keep your hymnal open to the right page throughout the whole hymn.
  • The lights on the organist are bright. The lights on the music are not. To get a feel for how it’s going to be, have an organ practice session in a dimly lit room while someone shines a flashlight at your face.
  • Counting out loud is not just for kids at piano lessons. The delayed-sound-travel phenomenon can get very distracting. Watch the conductor, count aloud, sing the hymn—do what you need to do to keep yourself focused on where you are, not where the congregation is.
  • Enjoy the moment. As Albert Schweitzer said:

If you are called upon to play a church service, it is a greater honor than if you were to play a concert on the finest organ in the world…Thank God each time when you are privileged to sit before the organ console and assist in the worship of the Almighty.

 

 

A Great Organ Workshop . . . And It’s Free!

An annual event, the Utah Valley American Guild of Organists Super Saturday is a great opportunity for organists of every level. Check out the amazing list of workshop classes below. And did I mention it’s FREE!?! AGO 2014 Super Saturday

To be added to the UVAGO Super Saturday email list, send your request to clark.mark@comcast.com. More questions? Just send a reply to this post. I’d be glad to help.

Prelude Music for Free, Please?

From a reader in Brazil:

Hi. I’ve read your blog. I am the organist of my ward, do you know where can i find free or cheap hymns preludes to play? Sorry for the spelling i don’t speak english.

First off, kudos to you for even attempting English. It’s such a nightmare to learn as a second language. Good job!

As for the prelude question, let’s start with the freebies:
I highly recommend the LDS church’s publication of Transformations for Organ: Easy additions to create simple preludes and postludes used in conjunction with Manual Only Hymns for Organ. (Both are available for download here.) These are great arrangements of hymns that sound lovely with or without foot pedals.

If you’re the creative type but don’t know where to start, check out this re-post on Creating Preludes from Hymns.

On to the the cheap option:
Cheap is a relative term. I have listed some of my favorite preludes under the Music/Published Arrangements tab. Most of those are fairly inexpensive and easy to find in the US, but I have no idea what happens when you cross the border.

WardOrganist.com sells downloadable sheet music for LDS organists. Buying arrangements individually is generally more expensive per piece than buying a book. But WardOrganist.com allows you to view and hear the piece before you buy.

Hopefully that will give you some direction.

Boa sorte 🙂